Pulling an All-Nighter: Volunteer Style

I pulled a caffeine-free all-nighter this past weekend. I volunteered for the night shift, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., at an evacuation centre in Calgary – a city that is dealing with the devastating effects of flooding. Thousands of people have been forced from their homes and have lost their homes in parts of Calgary and other communities in southern Alberta.

And yes, you heard right, I said caffeine-free all-nighter! While my fellow volunteers pounded back coffee, I resisted. I’m not a coffee drinker, even on a night like this. I haven’t pulled an all-nighter since my University days and even then it was a rare occurrence. What can I say, I like my sleep! But when the Calgary Stampede, through which I was volunteering, said their greatest need for volunteers was the night shift, I knew I couldn’t say no. And it turned out to be an eye-opening experience for this Prairie farm girl!

The first part of my night was spent assigning beds to evacuees, escorting them to their cot and making sure they have what they need. Every evacuee who comes to an evacuation centre has to register and is then assigned a bed. We also made sure they had their medications, showed them where the washrooms are, where there is food/drinks available, as well as Internet access, TV news, books, games and toys. Men, women and children of all ages were at this centre. Because I was there at night there was less action with most people sleeping. However, there are some people who can’t sleep in a strange place with strangers surrounding them in a stressful situation so not everyone was asleep.

The second part of the night I was asked to help on the other side of the centre which housed people struggling with mental illness and addiction. There was more action on this side as many of these individuals couldn’t sleep through the night in a situation like this. Our duties here included offering them snacks and drinks (the sweets were in high demand as some of the people were having alcohol withdrawal and craving sugar), making sure no one touched the food because of health concerns, stocking the food, getting the nurses when there were medical concerns and visiting with those people who wanted to talk.

These are all people who were forced from their homes, have no family or friends to stay with and have no insurance for hotels so they have nowhere else to go. It’s very heart-wrenching to see. I tried to put myself in their shoes, which can be difficult when you’re sitting high and dry. This city is so big and spread out that while it may be a state of emergency due to flooding in some areas, it can be just another day in other parts of the city.

The evacuation centre was run very smoothly and the staff and volunteers did their best to make everyone was comfortable, but with that said, it’s obviously not an ideal place to be and no one wants to be there. Basically, it’s making the best of a bad situation.

I mentioned my overnight volunteer shift on social media not to receive praise but to rather share my experience and to encourage others to volunteer or to give in some way. Of course, I did receive praise from several nice folks. I was called “amazing,” among other kind things. But I’m not amazing. I’m far from it. The amazing people are the ones who have been and continue to be there day in and day out volunteering. I worked with someone who was volunteering for the third overnight shift in a row. Those people are amazing.

Unfortunately, it often takes a disaster to bring people together, but fortunately for Calgary and area, people have done just that. Calgarians and Albertans have come together in a time of crisis. And I’m certainly proud to be a part of it.

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